Voice begins with the right choice of words
Each story or novel has its own diction, or the group of words that could be used for this story. For example, a historical fiction would have different word choices than a romantic comedy. Of course, there’s lots of overlap, but each story has certain words that you would say are inappropriate or are exactly right. In other words, the story is a context for making choices; and each choice will affect the overall context.
- Word origins can make a difference: fire is a strong Anglo-Saxon word, while inferno is a Latin-based word.
- Length or syllable count matter: fire is single syllable, while inferno has three syllables.
- The connotations of words matter. Does inferno carry connotations of hell? While fire makes you think of a cozy campfire? Connotations can be personal, but they also are cultural and these nuances matter.
- The formality of words, from formal to informal, can change voice.
- Progressions–for example, comparative to superlative–also affect voice.
- Jargon is the specialized vocabulary for a subject: for example, in baseball, you would talk about steals, earned runs and RBIs. Slang is contemporary language that means something to today’s audience only.
Words That Mean Something Else
Classic rhetoric discusses tropes, or the ways that words are used. Sometimes we call this figurative language, but it’s mostly how the word is used. Here are some common tropes.
- Metaphor/Simile: Two unlike things are said to be alike. The comparison is implied for a metaphor, but explicit for a simile.
Ex. Eating, he was a pig.
He ate like a pig.
- Synecdoche: Part stand for the whole.
Ex. He’s in trouble with the law. (Law stands for police or legal system.)
- Syllepsis: Use of one verb that is understood differently in relation to two or more objects.
Ex. His boat and his dreams sank.
Anthimeria: One part of speech is exchanged for another.
Ex. They enrolled in parenting class. (Parent is a noun used as an adjective.)
- Periphrasis: Substitution of one or more descriptive words for a proper name.
Ex. Blue-Eyes can croon a great tune.
- Personification: Attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects or abstractions.
Ex. No one, not even rain, has such small hands. (e.e. cummings)
- Litotes: Use of understatement to intensify an idea. It usually involves denying the contrary.
Ex. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. —J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
- Oxymoron: Juxtaposition of two contradictory words.
Ex. To win is to lose.
For more on how Word Choices Affect Voice, read these:
- Voice Friday: Word Choices
- Voice Friday: Word Connotations
- Voice Friday: Word Sounds
- Voice Friday: Words for Your Voice
Do you have any examples of how word choices changed the voice of a story?